Writing a query letter (or email query) is not an easy task for most people. On one page–usually no more than four or five paragraphs in length–the writer must entice and inform. A story must be condensed from thousands of words down to a mere 100-200 words. The query letter must not only give a simple overview of the main characters and the story’s conflict, the writer also needs to indicate the tone of the story, its genre, length, and a sense of the writer’s voice. Finally, besides piquing the reader’s interest in the story idea, the writer is encouraged to present a market plan. (Encouraged, but not required.)
Most new writers try to tell too much, both about the story and about themselves. Winning a grade-school poetry contest has nothing to do with why this book should be published, and an agent doesn’t really care if you graduated magna cum laude from college, not unless it has something to do with the plot of the story.
Of course the query should be personal. No “To Whom It May Concern” greetings, not unless the publisher’s guidelines ask for queries to be directed to “firstname.lastname@example.org.” An agent’s name should be spelled correctly, and the query letter should have no typos, grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors. No, “My mother loved it.” No references to the story’s movie potential, unless this is a query to an entertainment agent.
No panning other books or writers. (You never know. That book might be one the agent sold, or the writer may be the editor’s favorite.) No exaggerated comparisons: Will sell more copies than Gone with the Wind.
A query letter is a literary job seeker going for an interview. It enters the cyber interview room neatly dressed (its presentation), polite, and hopeful. As with a job interview, if the writer of the query letter can say why a particular agent or publishing house would be perfect for the book, that’s great, as long as the writer has done his/her research and the book is a fit.
One important aspect of a query letter is to let the editor or agent know how to reach the writer. But no, you don’t need to include your social security number and you don’t need to tell the agent or editor that you’re a new writer or have never had anything published. It’s the story and the writing that’s important, so focus on that.
And don’t forget to take a look at some of the other blogs. A-to-Z Blogging Challenge